The American Enterprise Institute's Center on Higher Education Reform today released two new reports on competency-based education, which follow a report the center released in January. The first paper uses results from a survey of hiring managers at companies around the country to learn about employers' perceptions of the emerging form of higher education. The survey found that while employers' overall awareness of competency-based education is low, those that do know about it have a favorable view.
The center's second paper seeks to describe best practices for the assessments that competency-based programs use. The report argues that the credibility of this form of higher education hinges on the quality of those assessments.
M. D. Anderson Cancer Center violated professional norms as well as its own policies regarding academic freedom and tenure in failing to renew two long-term professors. That’s the upshot of a report out today from the American Association of University Professors on the nonrenewal of Kapil Mehta and Zhengxin Wang from 2012-13. Like all professors at M. D. Anderson, Mehta and Wang were employed on a seven-year “term tenure” contract, and were not renewed after having each been granted tenure in previous cycles. Both received unanimous faculty recommendations for their tenure renewals, but they were denied at the institutional level and never provided reasons why in writing, according to the report. Their appeals -- to the same office that denied them tenure in the first place -- were rejected.
The A.A.U.P. expressed significant concern about the idea of temporary tenure, which it called a contradiction in terms, last year in an article on the cases in Inside Higher Ed. In its full investigative report, A.A.U.P. says that University of Texas-affiliated cancer center -- like many other research institutions -- is facing decreased funding opportunities and so putting greater pressure on the faculty to do more with less. But M. D. Anderson is unusual and in violation of the principles of tenure in making its faculty reapply for tenure every seven years under the guise of accountability, the report says. It’s also unusual in that it didn’t follow its own procedures for transparency regarding the two tenure decisions. A.A.U.P.’s report also suggests procedural irregularities in the review of a third, pretenure professor who was demoted to a classified position. The investigating committee noted additional concerns about shared governance and the overall climate for academic freedom at M. D. Anderson, especially under President Ronald DePinho, who began in 2011.
Mehta is finishing out the end of his term at M. D. Anderson and pursuing other opportunities. He said the A.A.U.P. investigation so far hasn’t changed his situation but he hopes it will prevent other scholars from being treated similarly in the future. Wang found a faculty position at Clark Atlanta University.
Via email, an M. D. Anderson spokesman said the institution had "many serious issues" with the report, especially its focus on DePinho, who did not initiate the term tenure policy, which has been in effect for decades. The spokesman also questioned A.A.U.P.'s assertions that both professors hadn't been given reasons for their tenure denial, since the provost told Mehta in writing that he'd been denied because he was not expected to meet his funding target. In an official letter of response to A.A.U.P., M. D. Anderson said its current tenure renewal rate remains high, at 97.7 percent.
Peter Diamandopoulos, who was president of Adelphi University from 1985 to 1997, died last week, The New York Times reported. Diamandopoulos was forced from office after the New York State Board of Regents removed most of the university's trustees, finding that they did not exercise oversight as his salary increased to unreasonable levels and the university's finances fell apart. It was highly unusual for the state board to take such action with regard to a private college. Diamandopoulos was a friend and ally of John Silber, the late Boston University president, and talked of turning Adelphi into a more academically rigorous institution, but many faculty members and others questioned his vision and his record at carrying it out.
Brown University on Tuesday released the final report of its sexual assault task force, which recommends that the university adopt a new "unified policy" that defines gender-based harassment, sexual violence, relationship and interpersonal violence, and stalking as "prohibited conduct." Among the dozen other recommendations, the task force also urged the university to centralize all university processes dealing with sexual assault in a recently created Title IX office. The university hired its first Title IX officer last week. The task force's report comes after a much-criticized sexual assault investigation that involved a botched drug test and prompted more than 400 students to protest on campus.
A student at Salisbury University, in Maryland, has just become the third this academic year to be diagnosed with tuberculosis, The Washington Post reported. The university is asking 385 students who came into contact with at least one of the students to be tested for the disease. Authorities are not sure how the students were exposed.
Defenders of higher education are on the ramparts. Again. This time, the ivory tower is under assault from a pitchfork-carrying crowd marching under the banner of reducing the cost of baccalaureate degree programs via the use of new technologies, especially online learning.
Predictions of the demise of the traditional baccalaureate program, especially at residential liberal arts colleges, have resonated through a spate of books and articles over the past few months. The planned closure of Sweet Briar College amplified the message that our institutions of higher learning are on the brink (and this at the height of the college acceptance/rejection season).
But are things really so dire for traditional undergraduate education? Are we really looking at The End of College, as Kevin Carey insists? As we consider the impact of new technologies on higher education, must college be “unbound,” “disrupted” or “unbundled” in order to best serve this generation of students?
It will be several years before we are able to assess the long-term viability and validity of an unbundled college program, but I believe unbundling is a fatally flawed approach. Rebundling is my rallying cry.
Many proposals to unbundle traditional higher education advocate a complete reinvention of the undergraduate experience. These proposals often dismiss or fail to make best use of excellent resources within existing institutions. Moreover, those wishing to unbundle the traditional baccalaureate degree program haven’t adequately considered the way teenagers entering college would experience an unbundled education. They overlook the fact that achieving success in an unbundled degree program requires a level of cognitive and developmental maturity that teenagers often don’t possess. (Adult learners, on the other hand, more often have the level of executive functioning necessary to successfully complete an online program, which is one reason why online learning has become such a useful option for this demographic.)
Finally, advocates of unbundling have not solved the dilemma of accreditation. For employers and graduate schools, established colleges and universities have long played an important role in certifying the meaning and value of the degrees they confer. In my opinion, there are two inviolable tenets of American higher education: to make students smarter and to recognize them as “certified smart.” What institution or agency will provide comparable certification for a degree from the “university of everywhere” (to use Kevin Carey’s term), a degree that is the aggregate of course components from diverse sources?
Under the leadership of Senator Lamar Alexander, a congressional committee is considering this issue. However, if a push to embrace unbundled degree programs results in a number of new agencies to accredit those programs, such a proliferation will likely diminish the current value of accreditation. Second, even if the number of new accrediting bodies is limited, any newly created agencies will have to establish track records of reliability over time in order to be viewed as comparable to the certification offered by existing colleges and universities.
As a response to these challenges, my proposal to rebundle college preserves the primacy, integrity and identity of existing institutions. Rebundling college will benefit students, reduce costs and provide the necessary certification of a given program of study by a college or university faculty.
This model will require many existing institutions to reorganize so that they, in effect, become the curators of an education for each enrolled student.
Individualized degree programs will be culled and created from many sources, much in the way an art exhibit is curated so that separate pieces come together to form a coherent, integrated whole. With oversight from their enrolling institutions, students will select from a variety of traditional and emerging pedagogies as well as other academic and co-curricular resources that existing institutions provide.
My model for rebundling college has three parts:
Part One: Educational and Financial Commitment
The first part involves the student and family making a commitment to planning a course for an individual’s education from (ideally) middle school through college. Planning could be initiated and overseen at the school district or the state level, perhaps through a mechanism similar to the Achievement Compacts developed by the Oregon Education Investment Board. Trust me: I do not underestimate this challenge given the current cultural patterns of limited or no forethought to developing a plan for postsecondary education among scores of families. Financial planning support must be made available to families through guided online learning modules, or where resources permit, group or individual counseling sessions that begin (again, ideally) in middle school, with special incentives for the lowest-income families.
And the individual plans -- digitized and kept within the control of the student and family -- can be updated periodically.
Part Two: Curriculum
The second part involves customizing a curriculum required for a student to complete a degree program. The institution at which the student eventually enrolls will support and oversee this process, curating a student’s education according to its own distinctive mission and goals.
The courses needed to complete the degree program may be taken at a home campus, or, where necessary, outside classes (reviewed and approved in advance by the home campus) would be purchased for the student. This process, similar to cross-registration protocols currently employed by collaborating institutions, would also encompass the purchase and delivery of online course content. This model reduces the need for a single campus to provide highly specialized but low-enrollment courses, thereby improving efficiency and reducing costs.
Part Three: Co-curricular Experiences
The third part focuses on co-curricular educational experiences. Participation in study abroad programs, intercollegiate athletics, or work with a faculty member on a specific research project, for example, can be layered into this model according to individual student interests and aspirations. These options would be priced separately and reviewed with an eye toward the overall financial strategy in place for the student. While these opportunities add significantly to the educational experience of each student, this model accepts that institutions may not be able to provide all opportunities for all enrolled students. Therefore, great care must be taken in order to avoid exacerbating the equity divide in higher education. This will require additional financial aid to low-income students, aid that is likely to be campus based. Moreover, it is not expected that students coming from wealthy families will uniformly engage in all options for high-impact co-curricular experiences.
This tripartite model for rebundling college has distinct advantages when compared to models of an unbundled education.
First, this model specifically addresses issues of student readiness for, and access to, higher education. Most importantly, this model directly engages students and their families in a beneficial, comprehensive academic and financial planning process that is currently lacking among students of traditional college-bound age, but is so critical for student persistence and success in a degree program.
Second, the curated, individualized educational program provides necessary structure and guidance for students as they develop the cognitive, personal and technological skills needed to earn a degree. This model integrates new technology and online learning opportunities as appropriate for individual students -- opportunities that are brokered, reviewed and recommended by faculty at the home campus. Ultimately, the curated educational program will reflect the distinctive ethos of a specific college or university faculty dedicated to a complete and cohesive vision of what a graduating student should know and have experienced. This model for rebundling college, therefore, offers a means of quality control and reliable certification of all degrees granted. The degrees earned by students retain an institutional imprimatur, which is significant for employers and graduate schools.
While this model addresses issues of equity and access in higher education, it does not assume public investment in a full residential college experience for every traditional student. Instead, this model advocates that institutions do as much as they can for as many as can afford the opportunity, while still being cost-effective.
These evolving dynamics and demands on institutional leadership and faculty will lead to changes to our traditional models, and debate about the effect of disruptive technology on higher education is in the early stages. Those on the ramparts of the ivory tower and those carrying pitchforks are set for a long battle. The best way forward is the détente proposed for rebundling college.
Larry D. Large is president of the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities.